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The Rise of Instant Delivery: Meeting Customers 'Whenever and Wherever'

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Brooke Lynch


With Super Saturday behind us, retailers are giving last-minute shoppers one more chance to grab their gifts in time for the holidays. In the past, customers headed out to stores for their last stretch of shopping, but 2020 has people rethinking the hectic retail environment. To compensate for obstacles like stay-at-home orders and in-store headcounts, retailers are now offering customers same-day shipping to alleviate the stress of holiday shopping.


On the surface, this may not seem like an easy feat. Between the massive increase in online orders and the addition of winter storms, shipping has been rocky as retailers struggle to meet customer demands in a timely fashion. There are roughly 6 million packages sitting in warehouses and fulfillment centers each day, waiting to be picked up and shipped out. Even one-day shipping has been a struggle throughout the year; retailers took an average of 2.8 days to fulfill orders, compared to only 1.8 in 2019.


Aware of these obstacles, retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods are avoiding traditional shipping methods and turning to services like Instacart to offer same-day delivery.


This shift to on-demand delivery has retailers taking fast shipping to another level. With already increasing customer expectations, will these services help differentiate companies or begin to become the norm?


Meeting Customers ‘Wherever and Whenever’


Dick’s announced its partnership with Instacart, an online grocery delivery service, on Friday. The sporting goods retailer will now offer same-day delivery in over 150 stores throughout 10 states, including New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, and Washington D.C.


According to Joe Pietropola, SVP of eCommerce, the partnership is focused on delivering speed and convenience in order to meet the customer “wherever and whenever they want.” The partnership will continue after the holiday season ends, giving customers the convenience of same-day deliveries well into the new year.


Averting the inefficiencies of traditional packaging and shipping processes, personal shopping services like Instacart offer a new take on eCommerce. When using the service, Instacart “Shoppers” go to physical locations on the users’ behalf. They “shop” for the product, check out, and then deliver it to the user, typically within two hours. Instacart, in effect, allows businesses to offer “immediate” shipping to their customers.


Although the near-instant delivery is enticing, it has its own challenges. If the store does not have an item in stock, the shopper may have to replace or cancel an item. Human error is always a possibility, and products may go missing as delivery orders become larger.


Impact of Instant Gratification 


The holiday season may have accelerated the timeline for instant deliveries, but the growing competition for fast service endures. With Amazon continually upping its quick delivery windows, retailers are feeling pressured to keep up.


Unsurprisingly,  services like Instacart are rapidly expanding. In the early stages of the pandemic, Instacart added 320,000 delivery workers in only eight weeks. Additionally, Target’s delivery service, Shipt, saw a 280% increase in deliveries in 2020’s third quarter. It’s a fair assumption that these delivery services will continue to grow exponentially because of their convenience and speed. 


We will also begin to see a wider range of retailers across different categories utilize on-demand delivery. In addition to Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sephora, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Staples are offering delivery through Instacart. 


This increase in instant deliveries will most certainly impact customer service standards. Online and mail-order shoppers used to be content if an order came in less than a week; thanks to the rise of Amazon Prime’s famous two-day (and sometimes one-day) shipping, a week now feels like an eternity. Same-day delivery may seem like a new or novel concept, but there is every reason to believe it could become the new standard for customers. Retailers that cannot offer such instant gratification will miss out on potential business.


Whether companies use the services to offer a streamlined experience for their customers or eventually adopt delivery services as a necessary tool, they need to begin preparing for the impact it will have on future service standards. Although these services are fast, they’re not foolproof and customers may expect faster deliveries, quicker responses from agents, and instant resolutions. With new technology comes new responsibilities for brands; identifying these shifts now can help improve your customers’ experience immensely.